With the Ashes in full swing and going so well for England, the Premier League’s return feels a tad premature. And it is. England’s premier competition returns a week early owing to Euro 2016. Sky and BT have both pulled out all the stops with extravagant, expensive adverts. The sparing is over, the scene is set. Lights. Camera. Action!
Spending across the league has never looked so effortless, with mid to lower-placed sides bringing in some of the hottest talents across Europe. Crystal Palace, Newcastle and West Ham, to name but a few, have all been busy acquiring upgrades from France and the Netherlands. Indeed, Jose Mourinho concedes the league will be won with a lower points tally to last season as the gap between the top sides and the rest narrows.
The significance of retaining Premier League status this time next year has added significance with the new TV deal coming into effect for 2016/17. Even relegated teams will earn £100m. While there’s added significance for West Ham. They’ll want to move into the Olympic Stadium as a Premier League side, rather than a Championship one.
So ahead of the new season, how are the 20 teams looking?
Mourinho’s side finished last season eight points clear of Manchester City, and they remain the side to beat. But they have been weakened by the departure of Petr Cech and it remains to be seen how much of a differential he is. It is a risk selling directly to a title rival, and you expect this was not Mourinho’s call. Cech’s 11 years of loyal service was considered by Roman Abramovich, and his desire to remain in London was granted. Out goes Didier Drogba, in comes Radamel Falcao and where Louis van Gaal failed in coaxing out his ability, Mourinho will be hoping to succeed. It’s worth noting Chelsea haven’t won a game inside 90 minutes this pre-season ahead of Swansea’s visit on Saturday evening.
Big season for: John Terry. Father time waits for no man, and the 34-year-old will be out to prove he can still mix it with the best.
Manuel Pellegrini admitted this week he failed last season. Eight points is too big a gap, and he’ll want to get off to a fast start, otherwise he’ll be collecting his P45 before the nights draw in. Raheem Sterling has been brought in for a British-record fee, while two other Englishmen have arrived in Fabian Delph and Patrick Roberts to appease the home-grown quota. Question marks hang over captain Vincent Kompany, and this is a big season for him after several below-par performances last season; especially in the Champions League against Barcelona. The squad was beginning to look stagnant, and a summer clean-up was needed. However, Edin Dzeko’s impending sale to Roma may not be the wisest move.
One to watch: Patrick Roberts. Showed promise at Fulham and with better players around him, has the ability to showcase his talents in a supporting role.
Many pundits’ tip for the top. Cech is a stellar addition, and if Arsene Wenger was hoping to improve the core of his squad, he couldn’t have picked a better option in goal. A striker is now a must before the window closes, while cover in the holding midfield position is needed; especially with Jack Wilshere facing another extended spell on the sidelines.
Big season for: Mesut Özil. Shown glimpses of world-class quality, but is yet to fully justify his price tag. Battle-hardened after two years in England, expect great things this time around.
You get the impression the club is still in transition after another summer of comings and goings. Wayne Rooney is expected to take centre stage up front, and will feel the weight on his shoulders with the departures of Falcao and, more pertinently, Robin van Persie. Javier Hernández and James Wilson will be expected to play important supporting roles, while there’s much anticipation over Memphis Depay’s debut season. Pedro looks set to be an upgrade on the inconsistent Angel di Maria. However, last season’s failings have yet to be addressed. United looked defensively vulnerable and unless van Gaal twists, expect similar shortcomings. Will David de Gea stay or go? The situation is far from ideal, and is an unwelcome situation hanging over the club heading into the new season.
Big seasons for: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Make or break campaigns for both players for club and country.
Prediction: 4th. Just.
Hugo Lloris’ speedy recovery from a broken wrist is a massive bonus. He came off the bench during the pre-season victory over AC Milan on Wednesday, and although he’s a doubt for the opening game against United, his importance to Spurs cannot be underestimated. Defensive failings last season have been addressed, and the prospective partnership of Belgians Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld looks promising. Harry Kane’s breakthrough year was astonishing, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to cope with the greater scrutiny Premier League defenders will give him. Should injury hit them up front, they may struggle, so another forward would be welcome before August 31st.
Big seasons for: Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Both players will have the England full-back positions in their sights ahead of next summer’s Euros.
Ian Ayre declared himself extremely happy with their summer transfer dealings. The stardust applied by Luis Suarez is long gone, and the loss of Steven Gerrard will be more felt off the pitch than on it after his decline over the past 18 months. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is apt when describing this group of players. James Milner will look to take centre stage after spending much of his career on the right, and he’ll be dovetailing with Jordan Henderson in filling the Gerrard void. Nathaniel Clyne is yet another arrival from Southampton and he’ll be looking to nail down England’s number 2 jersey. While Christian Benteke is a definite upgrade on Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert combined.
Big season for: Jordan Henderson. Acquiring the captain’s armband will not phase the England midfielder, but only time will tell whether he can continue his upward spike while taking on the added responsibility.
You cannot help but be impressed with Ronald Koeman. This time last year, they were earmarked for a relegation battle, yet his dealings in the transfer market proved astute and Southampton remained a force to be reckoned with. Fraser Forster will be missing until at least the spring after knee surgery, but Koeman has drafted in Maarten Stekelenburg on loan in another shrewd move. A caveat is their involvement in the Europa League. History suggests juggling this with the rigours of the Premier League may prove to be an inconvenience.
Big season for: Jay Rodriguez. Missing since April 2014, Rodriguez will first look to regain his place in the starting line-up. Talk of England may be further along in his sights, but is a decent carrot for the once-capped forward.
The fairytale continues. Last season saw a record points tally in the Premier League and their progress in the English football pyramid looks set to continue. Garry Monk has proven in his short managerial career to be the perfect man for the role. Not only has he re-established the Swans’ identity after Michael Laudrup but, in tandem with chairman Huw Jenkins, has evolved the club both on and off the pitch. In many ways, they could become a victim of their own success, with anything lower than a top-eight finish deemed a disappointment. However, with the arrival of Ghanaian Andre Ayew, their forward line has been sprinkled with added dynamism and unpredictability.
Big season for: Ashley Williams. The captain has reaffirmed his commitment to the club after media speculation linking him away. He’ll want to do his talking on the pitch and also help lead Wales to their first international tournament in 58 years.
On the subject of evolution, Mark Hughes has done exactly that after the Tony Pulis era. Hughes has done everything asked of him since taking on the role. Retaining their stubborn resilience in the defensive areas, Hughes has added an attacking verve and a more fluid style of play. Bojan was an inspired signing last year and had he not sustained a serious knee injury, may well have been the signing of last season. Ibrahim Afellay may prove to be yet another smart piece of business, as he looks to replicate the early promise that saw him move from PSV to Barcelona.
One to watch: Jack Butland. Losing Asmir Begovic to Chelsea is a blow, but the time is right for Butland to realise his rich potential and provide stiff competition to England’s current number 1 Joe Hart.
Alan Pardew begins his first full season in charge, and has made significant strides in the transfer market. Yohan Cabaye is crucial to their season, and will add supreme quality to the central midfield. Yannick Bolasie remains their trump card and he’ll be looking to add a greater consistency to his performances. Last season saw a lack of consistency in their attack, and this looks set to continue. It remains to be seen who Pardew opts for up front. So it’s a straight fight between Patrick Bamford, Fraizer Campbell, Dwight Gayle, Glenn Murray, Connor Wickham and Marouane Chamakh. Who’d be a manager?
Big season for: Wilfried Zaha. Yet to assert himself in the Premier League after early promise. Upstaged by Bolasie last term, he’ll be looking to kick on and is another who will be looking to convince Roy Hodgson of international recognition.
Chelsea’s public courtship of John Stones has been as unwelcome as a midsummer cold. It’s imperative he stays if Everton are to challenge for the European places. Gerard Deulofeu’s return was well received and Tom Cleverley will look to prove his doubters wrong. Both are low-risk acquisitions and the former will certainly add a greater threat to their forward line. A striker to help Romelu Lukaku share the workload is needed as Arouna Kone looks to be found wanting. Everton have produced some of the finest young English talent the league’s seen over the years, and both Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway are the latest off the production line.
Big season for: Ross Barkley. Struggled last year and will be looking to assert himself as one of the finest players of his generation.
Big Sam was never the right fit for their supporters, despite restoring their Premier League status and stabilising the club. West Ham will be desperate to remain in the top flight as they move home next summer, as the thought of them beginning life in the Olympic Stadium in the Championship is a financial no-no. Dimitri Payet managed 16 assists in Ligue 1 last season, a league high, and will hope to replicate this. However, with Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia expected to be out until September and October respectively, Slaven Bilic should be looking to add a striker to his ranks in the coming weeks. A massive season.
Key player: Adrián. With goals looking hard to come by in the attacking third, added responsibility falls at the hands of their Spanish keeper.
Pulis came in and did exactly what was expected of him in maintaining the club’s Premier League status. The same applies this time around, but Pulis will want to kick on. Rickie Lambert’s arrival adds to their forward ranks, which already boasts one of the most gifted strikers in the division in Saido Berahino. Keeping him amid interest from Tottenham and Manchester City is paramount. A hallmark of any Pulis side is defensive stubbornness. Indeed, the Baggies kept 10 league clean sheets at the turn of the year following his appointment and this looks set to continue.
Ones to watch: Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino. Both will be looking to board the plane to France next summer.
Many eyebrows were raised when Nigel Pearson got the axe midway through the summer break. Pearson was a fans’ favourite and despite his sometimes awkward relationship with the media, was generally respected for the job he had done not only in gaining promotion, but maintaining their top-flight status. Claudio Ranieri’s star has fallen since he was last on these shores, with his last post with Greece ending with defeat at home to the Faro Islands. Yes, player of the year Esteban Cambiasso decision to leave is a big blow, but N'Golo Kante’s arrival from Caen will hopefully offset this. (Kante made the highest number of tackles in the top five European leagues last season with 176). Ranieri has seen better days, and this appointment will ultimately cost the club.
Player to watch: Jamie Vardy. Will be hoping to prove last season was no fluke. Just three years after playing non-league at Fleetwood, he’ll be hoping to add to his solitary England cap.
A summer of optimism at the club. Since Mike Ashley’s address to their supporters before the final game of last season, not a great deal has gone wrong. The club stayed up, changed their manager and have brought in three signings totalling around £35m. A word of caution. Steve McClaren failed to gain promotion with one of the strongest squads in the Championship last season at Derby and question marks remain of his suitability at this level.
One to watch: Rolando Aarons. Progress has been stifled by a persistence of niggling injuries, but his ability is without question. Should McClaren give him a run in the side, could set the league alight.
Prediction: 12th and a good cup run.
With Premier League survival secured, it seemed surprising Dick Advocaat announced he wouldn’t be staying at the club. However, after a u-turn Advocaat remains in charge and stability can only be a good thing for the club. Two signings in particular stand out. Advocaat is reunited with Jeremain Lens for a third time, while the loan signing of Yann M'Vila from Rubin Kazan is sure to excite the fans. However, it’s firepower they need and after losing Connor Wickham to Palace, they surely need to bolster their attack before the window closes.
One to watch: Jeremain Lens. Adds much-needed pace to their forward line. You don’t win 30 caps for the Netherlands without having something about you.
Since FA Cup Final day, not a great deal has gone right. Not only did they lose 4-0 to Arsenal, but they’ve gone on to lose their two best players. Christian Benteke’s goals will be hard to replace, while captain Delph’s departure doesn’t send out the right message. Players will always come and go, but the ones that have come in will have to hit the ground running. Nine in. Nine out. Continuity is lacking and from the nine arrivals, only Scott Sinclair and new captain Micah Richards have Premier League experience.
Big season for: Jack Grealish. At just 19, carries the hopes of the entire club. Will need to grow up fast. That and probably decide where his international loyalties lie between England and Republic of Ireland.
Along with Swansea, probably the feel-good story in recent times. The job Eddie Howe has done is nothing short of miraculous. But it’s in the past. Now in the big time for the first time, they need to accept the players are there on merit. They have some outstanding talents in their squad. Yes, the vast majority lack any Premier League experience. But those that do have unfinished business, while Sylvain Distin holds the record for the most appearances made by a foreign outfield player in the league. Full-back Simon Francis, winger Matt Richie and Callum Wilson will all be desperate to prove they belong at this level.
One to watch: Matt Ritchie. Most assists in the Championship last season with 16 is no mean feat.
It’s difficult to argue with any conviction they are well placed to stay up. Their previous two campaigns in the Premier League have each lasted just one season, while their Head Coach Quique Flores has no experience of managing in this country, let alone the Premier League. The permanent capture of Matej Vydra will please their fans after two separate loan spells and the arrivals of Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami offers much-needed Premier League experience. However, neither have excelled at this level with Spurs or West Ham to date.
One to watch: Troy Deeney. For many years he has lead the line with great distinction in the Championship and the captain will be desperate to prove he can rub shoulders with the league’s meanest defenders.
Their most recent experience in the Premier League brought mixed fortunes. Yes a third season ended in relegation, but 2011/12 and 2013/14 saw 12th and 11th finishes respectively. Norwich gained 17 wins from 25 games under Alex Neil following his appointment in January, and he will hope they carry this momentum into the new season. One major plus is a large chunk of the side that played here last has remained. And they’ve added top flight experience in Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu, Robbie Brady and Andre Wisdom. Whether they have the required quality remains to be seen.
Ones to watch: Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond. Both have the required quality to unlock Premier League defences.